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|| News Item: Posted 2000-12-20

A Layman's Guide to Spasms and Sausages
By Larry Frank, Lowepro

I was sitting on the neurosurgeon's examination table. He was in the next room examining the X-rays sent over by my neurologist.

I had been off the job and in agony for 3 weeks. The hot wire of non-stop constant pain, shooting from my back down my leg to my toes, wouldn't let up. I couldn't find a body position, in bed, on the floor, hanging from a chinning bar or in any fetal position that would give me even the slightest comfort or relief.

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When I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw that my hips were actually shunted 2 inches off-center to my spine. I looked like a freak. Painkillers had lost their clout two weeks ago (and besides, they're constipatingand you don't want to go there). Lord have mercy, my back was " in spasm."

As I waited on the examination table, I knew my only hope was surgery. I was ready. I wanted it. Doctor, please do anything to stop the pain. I don't care about the hospital. I don't care about the knife. I don't care about the scar. I don't care about the physiotherapy. Just please stop the pain!

This wasn't the first time for me - I'd been suffering bouts of "spasm" for the last 25 years. It seems to be an occupational hazard. You see, I'm a photographerused to carrying heavy equipment (the wrong way) and bending over a tripod for hours at a time.

The sound of the surgeon entering the examining room snapped me out of my little sub-nightmare. Here, I thought, coming through the door, was the man who could stop the pain. "Doctor," I blurted out, "I'm prepared for surgery. I can go to the hospital right from here. I can't take any more pain."

The doctor paused, stepped back and looked at me, pursed his lips and said, "Son, you don't know what pain is."

* * *

Years ago, a neurologist had advised me that most folks, upon entering their 40's, can start to suffer from some form of spinal cord wear and tear, which can manifest itself as lower back pain and even shooting pains from your lower back down to your toes. He wasn't kidding.

As a photographer for some 35 years, I suffer from what lay people commonly call "slipped disks." Some wax philosophical and call it "back spasm." In my case, they told meit was disk degeneration. Anyway you slice it, it's bad news.

I am given to understand that disks do not actually "slip" - they bulge, rupture or just degenerate. The causes, (remember, I'm a statistic, not a doctor), could be uneven tension between stomach and back muscles (like the mast of a sailboat needs equal tension from the support wires front, side and back to remain upright) or uneven and undue stress put on the spine by not bending the knees when lifting a heavy object.

In any case, like my neurologist said, we are more vulnerable to back pain as we approach middle age - so we don't want to aggravate matters

Once the disk suffers from bulge, rupture or degeneration, it ceases to effectively perform as the cushion between the vertebrae, and you get the message that something is wrongvery wrong. The nerves in the thin spinal column become upset, jangled, irritated, short-circuited and/or bone grinds against bone (a horrid graphic worst case scenario), and bingopain. I repeat - pain - of the highest magnitude.

Many pundits often spout those sagely words, (but after the fact), "If I only knew then what I know now, yada, yada, yada, etc." Well, that doesn't help much when you're in spasm and dizzy with pain! The name of the game is, how do you prevent getting into spasm in the first place without giving up your job and becoming a vegetable!

Back to the neurosurgeon - he did finally help me. He sent me to yet another specialist; one who measured me for a corset. Yes, a corset, complete with laces, bones (plastic) and three steel rods up the back. And when it was fitted, laced up and tightened, my lower back pain magically subsided and I felt as if I was floating in heaven. The laces, bones and steel rods gave me what my back needed - support to the lower back, AKA the lumbar area.

At first, I thought the idea of wearing a corset was silly, until it made the pain go away. Then, it seemed like a pretty smart ideabut I looked like a human sausage! It also wasn't pleasant going through the metal detector archway at the airport. It raised a big commotion - a human sausage setting off the buzzers of the metal detectora total embarrassment with all those inspectors with electronic wands and gunpowder detectors descending on me.

But now I understand why warehouse personnel and construction workers on the job wear those funny belts with the suspenders when they carry heavy objects. Go into a home Depot and you'll see the store reps wearing them.

When you realize, as I now do, that corsets and support belts give the lower back the proper support, it becomes crystal clear why people wear them: they protect the key damage prone and pain causing area of the spine - the lumbar area - when performing heavy lifting, or in our case, on a shoot or transporting our equipment.

Photographer and long-time friend, Uwe (pronounced oovah) Mummenhoff, who also happens to be the President of Lowepro, the camera bag and pack company, has back problems that are even worse than mine. He's been out of commission for months at a time!

When he was working with his designers at Lowepro to come up with an equipment carrying system that would be kind to backs - later to become known as the Street and Field System - he knew a major component had to be a belt. Why? A belt, when supporting weight, will transfer the weight force to the hips, not the back. The hips represent the largest bone mass in the human body, and therefore most capable of bearing weight, as compared to the vulnerable spine. That is why mothers most often carry their infant children on their hip and not on their backs.

Now, let's take it one step further. Uwe wanted the weight-bearing belt to also give support and comfort to the lumbar region of the spine, similar to my corset and the support belts worn by warehouse personnel. That's how the Street and Field Deluxe Waistbelt was born. It's thick, well padded and has a large lumbar support built in to the belt's internal structure.

And, the Deluxe Waistbelt has lots of Sliplock loops to hang a myriad of different size and shape Street and Field pouches, lens cases, camera bagsin fact, it's the core component a whole system designed to carry weight efficiently. It can even be integrated with a system chest harness to accommodate dedicated Street and Field backpacks and larger cases.

But, with any Street and Field combination (as well as the heavy-duty Lowepro backpacks), when properly configured per the instructions, the majority of the weight is transferred, by design, away from the back and to the hips - providing protection and comfort for long hours on the job or assignment, thanks to the lumbar support built into the core of the system Deluxe Waistbelt.

If you're like me and prone to back pain, consult your physician if you have not already done so. I also suggest that you do not carry your camera gear or related equipment in a shoulder bag, which puts uneven stress on the spine.

So, here's the challenge. Go to your nearest Lowepro Dealer (most major photo retailers carry Lowepro products) and try on a Street and Field Deluxe Waistbelt. Tighten it nice and snug around your waist. When you feel that heavenly lumbar support kick in, you'll feel exactly the way I felt when first strapped into my corsetlike you're floating in heaven. And, since it's the Street and Field Deluxe Waistbelt and not my corset, you won't have to deal with laces, bones or steel rods, andyou won't look like a sausage!

(Larry Frank has been a professional photographer since the mid 60's. His longest assignment has been for Nikon (Canada) as Manager of NPS and the Nikon School of Photography. Recently, he has taken over as Manager of Professional Products for Lowepro International.)

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